Trust falls. They’ve fallen out of favour when it comes to team-building – health and safety concerns, for one thing. But really, they were always more of a metaphor anyway.
When you close your eyes, fall backwards, and wait for someone to catch you, you’re taking a risk. A risk that could have painful, embarrassing consequences. And that’s a key element of trust in the workplace – knowing that, if you put yourself out there, someone will be there to support you.
Trust is crucial for a functioning workplace. But it’s important to remember that it’s a two-way street. As much as you need your employees to trust you, you need to show them the same courtesy – because the benefits are powerful…
From directly resulting in a higher performing organisation, to indirectly doing the same thanks to the power of employee engagement, trust matters. So how can you spot how it’s going in your organisation?
From the employees’ perspective: this happens if you’re regularly cancelling or postponing meetings, or just not doing what you say you will – from reviewing their work to signing off their holiday. You’ll notice because they’ll just stop trying. They’ll stop chasing you for updates, scheduling meetings, asking for advice… and that disengagement is damaging.
From the employers’ perspective: micromanagers are bad for business, but it’s easy to fall into bad habits. If you’re checking in too often, asking for proof of their work, and keeping too close a tab, they’re going to notice and realise that you don’t trust them to do their duties.
From the employees’ perspective: if your employees are acting withdrawn, there’s a problem. If they’re not telling you about things that have gone wrong, or how they’re feeling, or just contributing less in discussions, it’s a sign that they don’t trust you enough to share personal information. You don’t need to know everything, but life and work are never completely separate – so it’s important to know what’s happening in their lives.
From the employers’ perspective: some leaders share information on a need-to-know basis, but it’s time to re-evaluate what that means. Being transparent about the organisation’s successes and failures, upcoming changes, and general strategy costs nothing – but show that you trust your team.
From the employees’ perspective: advocacy is important. If your employees don’t feel like you have their backs – which is a key part of doing your job well – then they won’t take the risks they need to be innovative and ambitious.
From the employers’ perspective: in a remote world, this is a big one. Only a third of employers trust their staff to work remotely – despite performance often not dropping – and that mistrust is very obvious to spot. Although they’re fearing a breach of trust between employer and employee on the side of the person potentially shirking at home, they’re causing the same issue by doubting their intentions.
Two-way trust takes a while to build, but there are some must-have behaviours you should exhibit to encourage it in your teams:
Break down the manager-employee divide by building a personal connection, whether that’s by sharing details of your daily life with the team, or taking time to chat about the latest episode of that new BBC drama everyone’s watching. Find common ground, so they know you’re with them – not against them.
On the flipside, this means fully accepting their human nature. People make mistakes, get emotional, have ‘off days’, slip up occasionally – make them know they don’t have to be afraid of you seeing that.
If you trust them, they’re more likely to trust you. Everyone wants to feel empowered and capable, and your job is giving them the freedom to do that – even if you’re keeping an eye on them from afar. If you’re giving them the space to take risks, they’ll come to you when those risks don’t pay off.
Tell them everything you possibly can. No, really. Whether business is booming, or tailing off; if you’re having a good or bad day; that you’re hiring new employees, or there’s a pay freeze. Being candid shows that you value their opinion. Trust and honesty in the workplace go hand in hand, so don’t give them space to imagine the worst case possible.
You need to be accessible to them – think open door policies, quick responses to messaged questions, regular meeting slots. If they know you’re there, as a reliable, visible presence, they’re going to trust you more.
But you also need to help them realise that you’re not just present, you’re also good at what you do. Let them benefit from your expertise by using it, sharing your knowledge, and helping them become better at their job.
Before defining strategies to build trust and improve employee engagement, you need to listen first. Understand how your employees feel about their relationship with the organisation’s leaders by asking them in a survey.
Whether it’s a deep dive survey into ‘leadership’ to assess how much trust they have, or into ‘empowerment’ to see if they feel trusted, you can quickly get the answers you need. Find out more today, and use trust to make your company stronger.